There are so many choices when it comes to portable generators and it can be tough to figure out which suits your needs best. If you are leaning toward a renewable option like “solar,” there are a number of solar generators on the market to choose from. The options are not really the issue, understanding if they are right for your needs, well that is a tougher decision. Before we can run through the pros and cons of a solar generator, let’s first define what it does and how it works.
The Nuts and Bolts
Solar generators work in conjunction with solar panels. The panels collect the sun’s energy and stores that into the battery bank of the generator. An inverter, within the generator, converts that energy into AC power.
Solar Panels are made of solar cells constructed of silicone. They are like little semiconductors that are designed to capture photons from the sun. After a complex capturing of these photons that energy is turned into an electrical circuit. The more panels you have, the more energy you are able to produce through the use of the sun.
Solar generators are quite different than standard generators in that they “store” power in a battery system. Traditional generators use a fuel source to create a constant stream of energy while the unit is in operation. Therefore, a traditional generator cannot provide energy unless the unit is running, while the solar generator cannot provide constant energy if the unit doesn’t have sufficient energy stores.
An interesting fact, in 2017 the International Energy Agency reported that solar energy was the fastest-growing power source in the world. That’s right, innovators and manufacturers are focused on harnessing the sun’s power over the option of fossil fuels.
Now that we know how solar generators function, lets run through the pros and cons of what they do and don’t offer users.
The Pros of Solar Generators
- Clean Energy – When you use a solar unit, you don’t have to deal with any kind of exhaust. This isn’t just great for your personal space, but it’s a great choice for the planet as well.
- Silent – Solar generators don’t have moving parts which offer a peaceful energy source without the clatter of an engine running.
- Self Sufficient – Solar generators are more self-sufficient and require less maintenance. You don’t have to constantly tend to them or keep fueling them in any way. Once they are set up, you will reap their benefits with ease.
- Inside Use – solar generators can be used inside as they are no different than the batteries you have inside your home.
- Low Maintenance – Since there are no moving parts, there is not much to maintain. Further, since there is no fuel source, there is no replacing those fluids to ensure the unit functions.
- Longevity – Solar generators have a longer lifespan than traditional fuel-based generators. Both the unit and the panels are designed to outlast traditional generators.
- Cost Ratio – Solar energy is free. You won’t be at the mercy of the utility company and their rate hikes. Your purchase of one may even be eligible for tax incentives.
- Safety – Solar generators are a safer energy alternative because they don’t use flammable materials to ensure they function.
The Cons of Solar Generators
- Upfront Cost – How much you spend will depend on what kind of unit you are purchasing and the generator size you need to accommodate your situation. There are also additional costs like solar panels and installation that can add to the setup costs.
- Subject to Weather – While solar panels can collect energy even on cloudy days, you will need plenty of sunshine to ensure the unit can provide usable or sustained energy.
- Heavy Lifting – Solar generators can be heavier in weight as they contain batteries within them. This can impact how portable they are for some users.
- Space – Solar generators can take up more space than traditional version as they need solar panels to also work. This might be a drawback for those looking for a truly compact option.
You’re now aware of how solar generators function and how they may or may not provide you the right energy source. Let’s now take a quick look at how that compares with fuel based generators so you have the full picture to make the right decision for your needs.
The Pros of Gas Generators
- Steady Energy – These types of units are designed to give you a steady stream of energy no matter what the conditions. As long as you are fueling them, they will run.
- Price-Point – Gas generators tend to be less expensive upfront and can found readily. They are also easy to repair due to their mechanical nature.
- Compact – These units tend to be stand-alone and need very little if any, additional components to function.
The Cons of Gas Generators
- Toxic Exhaust – Gas generators burn fuel, plain and simple, which means they emit toxic exhaust into the air. This also means they need to be stored outside and far enough away from your home or dwelling to ensure you aren’t inhaling the fumes.
- Louder than Life – When you combine a motor, and moving parts, you’re going to get noise. This might be fine if this generator is outside, but the noise of some of them can even penetrate the walls of your home.
- Maintenance is a Must – Mechanical parts in gas generators are going to require regular maintenance to ensure they last. This may be a hassle for the user, or costly if something breaks.
Hopefully, this has given you a good look at the main pros and cons of solar vs. gas generators. It is important to mention one last consideration when deciding to make a solar generator purchase. The size of the generator to go with will be crucial to ensure it meets the power needs of your lifestyle or situation. Since these units use a different form of energy (then gas options) the rating and load size will be paramount for you to figure out. Gas generators use a “wattage” rating, and will likely be stated in the thousands with Kilowatts. Solar generators use an “amperage” rating. This is expressed more by an hour rating since the energy comes from a battery.
You can calculate your watts to amp ratios by using this equation:
E = A * r * H * PR
E = Energy (in Kilowatts)
A = Area (the solar panels occupy)
r = Efficiency (the percentage panels claim)
H = Solar Radiation (tilted panels annual average)
PR = Performance ratio (default value = 0.75)
Solar panels have become far more effective and efficient since their inception. Today, a typical solar panel can produce hundreds of watts of power depending on how big the panels are. Crunch some numbers to see if the Kilowatt rating or Amp rating is best suited for your needs, which will depend on how often and what application you need the generator to function within.
Solar Generator Application
Finally, here a is look at how solar generators will work in various places and in a number of situations. These units are helpful at home when the power goes out or you’re prepping for your next off-grid adventure. To round off our look into the pros and cons of solar generators let’s take a look at who should purchase one and in what cases they are most useful.
Home use – Solar generators can be used in the home but will be limited. These won’t likely power your whole home unless you are living in say, a tiny home. Even then, you may have a hard time using everything you need like kitchen or bathroom appliances. You will have to make some sacrifices for energy if you decide to use this in the home. However, these are a great backup option for those moments when the power goes out and sure beats candlelight.
For Business – As in your home use, solar generators may not be a great option for businesses unless you decided to get a fixed solar panel system. These come with a hefty price tag. A portable solar generator may be the difference of getting some business done when the power is out. Therefore, this isn’t a poor option completely if you’re using it for backup.
For Campers and RV’s – Campers and RV’s will undoubtedly benefit from using a solar-based generator. Since these units are portable in nature, solar generators can provide most campers and RVer’s some creature comforts during their off-grid adventures. Another upside, they won’t impede on your camping neighbors and won’t keep you up at night.
For Boats and Yachts – Solar generators for the marine industry are growing in popularity especially for those who live aboard. The application, again, might be limited since marine appliances and mechanicals carry different loads. A solar generator, however, might be a good option for nights at anchor when you’re away from shore power.